Wednesday, April 16, 2008

H is for Hoer

When my lovely sister was here about a year and a half ago, she took a great picture of a prostitute from this spot on a canal near our house. (It's actually forbidden to take pictures - for obvious reasons - but she got a few.) I asked her to send the picture I wanted, but she couldn't find it, so I had to replicate it as best I could. The other one she sent was a little too graphic for me. It was just a woman in red light standing in her undergarments - Fred liked it for it's frankness. This is a little more vague, just giving the suggestion of a woman's shape.

This woman is talking on the phone and looking out the window. There are always men below outside the windows standing and looking in. Cars drive by slowly. Sort of a strange relationship the women have with these men. They occasionally poke their heads outside to answer a question or negotiate a price. This one is at a strange little mini Red Light District near our house. Most of the prostitutes in Amsterdam are in the infamous big Red Light District, which you may or may not know is being slowly being closed down. Many of the windows, I've heard, now have "fashion" in them.

Hoer is, of course the Dutch word for whore. It sounds enough the same that I won't explain how to pronounce it. Oops. I just did.

There's a strange thing that the Dutch say when they answer a question sometimes. You ask a question and they say, "Ja, hoor." Ja obviously means yes. Hoor means "hear" literally, but it's used differently. It's one of those things that you have to hear a few times and then you learn how it's used. You can say, "Bedankt, hoor," (Thanks) "Nee, hoor." (No) and a number of other things. I read somewhere that there's an aversion among the Dutch to giving one word answers, so that's often tagged on. I often give one word answers. They probably think I'm rude. But I did happened to say "hoor" the other day when I answered something. Strange how those things creep into your brain and then out your mouth.

My point is that hoor sounds like hoer the first...150 times you hear it. So it sort of sounds like "Thanks, slut" or "Yes, slut." (Not that all whores are sluts.) Then after a while it's just another sound. There's a slight difference in the pronunciation. It's the difference between "oh" and "oo," but when they're talking fast, it doesn't always compute.

Amsterdam has a strange relationship with the prostitutes. They're here, but no one really pays attention because they're relegated to certain areas. And they're not on the streets; they're in windows. Of course everyone who visits Amsterdam has to go to the Red Light District. I was just as guilty as everyone else. It's smarmy and sort of gross to see women standing in a window trying to make eye contact. They're on the ground floor and on the first floor. They're sometimes shaped in ways that I would not think would be a help when you're trying to make money with your shape. Different strokes for different folks. I've even seen one who was - I'm not exaggerating - at least 65. Standing in a bikini with a big smile. She must still be working. Waiting for her pension to kick in. Never got into management, I guess.

On my way home from Dutch class, I used to pass a couple of women who worked the windows around the corners from where this picture was taken. The women often looked up and winked or waved. They're always ready with a smile. Catch someone's eye, reel him in. I always waved back. They're not hurting anybody. They're just trying to make a living.


Littlelou said...

One of the things I admired about Amsterdam was there frankness towards sex workers. To me it was at first as it is to many, a somewhat bewildering sight. But the openess of it all takes away some of the seediness and red light windows become much like any other shop window displaying their goods after a time (does this mean I am becoming dehumanised?). Im still not sure if the gradual closing of the red light areas is beneficial for these ladies but crime,drugs and sex trafficking goings on understandably cannot be tolerated.

astrid said...

being dutch I never realized the simularity between hoer and hoor: that is really an eyeopener! Hilarious as well: now I can never again say: ja, hoor without realizing that I sound like saying: ja, hoer. Thanks.

searching for life said...

This is your "lovely sister"! I love that you said that about me. It really makes me happy! I thought for a minute that you had found my picture on your computer! This looks almost identical to the one I took. I loved watching those women from across the canal waiting on the train. One of the many wonderful memories from my trip. I love you! Kath

knittyvritti said...

i dont care what anyone is saying in dutch--the sound of the language is so beautiful you could call me something much worse than a hoer and i'd be still be smiling. the only thing i lke beter than listening to dutch is native dutch speakers speaking english--i once made a friend repeat the words "terra cotta pots" for much of an afternoon.

RedScot said...

I love the Dutch language - it sounds so much like my local dialect back home in Scotland! We say 'hoor' for prostitute, too, but it sounds exactly the same as the Dutch! It was one of the first words I understood when I was in the Netherlands! Says a lot about me!